Review Summary: Iron Maiden attempts a more stripped-down album, which captures the rawness from the Di'Anno days, but not the quality songwriting.Iron Maiden Discography 4/15
Going back to your roots may be a good idea for some bands. There are a lot of bands nowadays
that have been on a course of extravagant experimentation, but coming with that is a screaming fanbase who desperately wants their fans to go back to their older style. (I'm thinking about Linkin Park when I type this.) For Iron Maiden, it's the other way around. They were growing with their music and continued to grow with each subsequent release, further establishing themselves as the masters of metal. However, on their eight release, No Prayer for the Dying, the band trades in their epic, melodic style for a stripped, raw, down-and-dirty type record. When the band went back to their roots, they cut down the tree they had been building for a decade.
Of course, the instrumentation has decreased in quality. One of the guitarists, Adrian Smith, left the band because he didn't like the direction it was taking. He was replaced with Janick Sers, who is a good guitarist for this style of music, but he lacks the passion that made Maiden great before. The guitar-work is good, but there are few riffs that get stuck in your head for days, and few solos that make you stand up and say “Wow”. Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain, the bassist and drummer respectively, don't do much interesting work either, and are pretty forgettable.
A major source of criticism for the record is Bruce Dickinson's voice. He abandoned his theatrical, operatic singing style for a raspier style, apparently trying to imitate the band's original vocalist Paul Di'Anno. He doesn't pull it off well at all. In several songs, such as “Holy Smoke”, he basically talks through the whole song in an annoying raspy way, with no regard for melody at all. In songs where he actually tries to sing, such as “No Prayer for the Dying”, his voice sounds very strained and he has trouble even hitting the notes. How he went from his performance on “Seventh Son” to this is beyond me.
However, that's not the main problem. The main problem with this record is the songwriting. The complex song structures of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son are all but gone. Instead, the band ops for a more straight-forward record. Often times, Iron Maiden seems to be ripping off their older material. Opener, “Tailgunner”, is the perfect example of this. It is both structurally and lyrically very similar to Powerslave's opener “Aces High”. Also, the chorus repeats itself twice as much as it needs to. That said, this is actually one of the better songs on the album, because I like the main riff here. It doesn't seem very complex, but I like the way it sounds.
Most of the other songs don't do anything for the betterment of the album. “Holy Smoke” is one of the worst Iron Maiden songs to date, offering nothing interesting at all. When the best part of the song is the music video, you know there's a big problem. The title track is a competent ballad, but when compared to the likes of “Wasting Love” and “Out of the Shadows”, is quite forgettable. The song starts slowly, and starts speeding up rather awkwardly during the bridge. Like “Tailgunner”, this is still on the better half of the album, yet falls on its face when compared to other Maiden songs.
The next three songs are average, predictable tracks that go in ear and straight out through the other. The songs are fun while they last, but when their over, they leave you with an empty feeling. (Just like my ex.) I can never even keep these three tracks straight, because they all sound so similar. “Run Silent Run Deep” is a glimmer of hope, because it's catchy, has a strong presence, and Bruce actually sings well here. (More on that later.) However, after this little gem, the record goes back to its old ways with the completely disposable “Hooks in You”. Eight songs in, with one good song so far and two decent ones. Come on Maiden, you've got better than that.
Fortunately, the last two tracks help to redeem the album. The remake of Bruce Dickinson's solo song, “Bring Your Daughter... To the Slaughter” won a Razzie award for “Worst Song”, and a lot of people dislike it. Yes, it has stupid lyrics, but honestly, I'd take them over the rest of the boring political lyrics on the rest of the album. The song has an attitude, and I like that. The music is catchy as well, and the song also contains my favorite guitar solo on the record. Overall, it's just a great, fun song. The final track, “Mother Russia”, is probably the best song in the album. It feels like a miniature “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”, being primarily instrumental, synth-heavy, and containing orhcestral elements. Despite being the longest track on the album, it has the fewest lyrics; only two verses in the whole song. Seperating them is a long, complex, instrumental section. This song is in musically in sharp contrast to the rest of the record, but in this case, it's a good thing. “Mother Russia” is the most original song on the record, and the only one that displays any notable level of creativity. It's quite a shame too. Iron Maiden were at the top of their game, but they made a big step in the wrong direction. Despite a few moments of greatness, the record fails to be anything more than mediocre, and is Maiden's weakest album to date. Oh well, it happens to every band at least once. Maiden only got better from here.